By: Josh Sheldon
There is a chill in the morning air and the water temperatures are starting to drop, which is the big indicator that fall patterns are starting to take over the fishing landscape. I will be completely honest with you all; it has only been within the last ten years I have become successful fishing in the fall. I know the fall is an exciting time of year to catch large numbers of fish and many people catch their trophies of a life time during this time of year, but it has kicked my tail for years. I believe fall patterns can be extremely unique to areas of the country and specific waters. I have learned fall patterns change often and when I say often, I mean daily. I have had amazing days fishing in the fall and I have had days where I leave the mumbling choice words to myself upset I missed the Broncos for terrible fall fishing. In this article, I am going to give you a few key fall patterns that I have found to be as consistent as fall patterns can be and share with you the one most important fall concept you will ever hear!
Fall is a time for fishing structure. Fish are often found in huge schools relating to very distinct structure. Submerged road beds that have visible edges falling off and creating drop offs will often hold fish on top of the road bed, on the break and just off the break. This may sound like an obvious area to look for fish, but now look for those fish on a road bed that stretches several miles. Those fish will be highly concentrated, not easy to find and the use of detailed maps on your electronics can help pinpoint certain areas along that road bed that look more inviting then others. Much of this structure is found in 25 feet of water or more. If you don’t have a submerged road bed in your lake, then I look for deeper humps. The humps don’t need to be the great pyramids under the water. Look for small humps that have a steeper rise on one side and a more gradual rise on the other. The hump itself may only create a 3ft contour difference but that is plenty to stack the fish on. If you have a lake with deeper weed growth, I would search the weed edge on the deeper side and look for schools of fish on that weed line where there is a change in the bottom composition. Where the bottom changes from mud with weeds to rock can hold substantial numbers of fish in a very small area. Don’t be afraid to look for this structure in the middle of the lake, where there appears to be nothing that would hold fish.
What to use! This is the time of year where I find these stacked fish and sit over the top of them and use Rapala Jigin Raps and I use short quick raises and I let slack allow that bait to fall free to the bottom. Most often the fish will strike with an absolute ferocity as you jerk that bait off the bottom. I let the bait sit on the bottom for a couple seconds before I start my next movement. Those fish will see that bait coming up off the bottom like a dying bait fish and they will nose up to it while it rests on the bottom to investigate it. When you jerk that bait back up off the bottom that causes an immediate and aggressive reaction strike.
Violent, fun, exciting and addicting are a few words that describe this way of fishing. I also use several types of jigging spoons and I use my bottom bouncing rods so I can operate the reel with one hand. I use a 2ft leader of 10 or 12-pound test fluorocarbon and that allows me the ability to bend the hook if that bait becomes hung up on the structure.
Often in the fall I find schools of fish lingering with suspended bait fish in the middle of the lake. Here in Colorado most of our lakes have shad as the primary source of forage in our reservoirs. The shad hatches of the summer have rendered millions of bait fish that look like giant clouds of suspended orange and red on our graphs. The fish following the bait balls are of every species (to include huge carp) and are often well fed and can be difficult to catch. These fish have a Las Vegas style buffet available to them all day and the need to chase or even give your bait a second look is small at times. BUT there are many times during a day when a well presented crank bait trolled at the proper depth will produce gigantic fish. I use lead core or snap weights with my crank baits to achieve the proper depths. Most often these fish will be suspended over deep water and they are feeding whenever something induces that reaction strike. I have had many fall days where we only catch 5 fish but all five are in their mid-20’s or bigger. For Colorado that’s a fall day to call home about. It’s critically important to adjust your baits until you find that magic depth and then set all your baits at the same depth. Often, I will put snap weights on mono behind 2 planer boards and use two lead core rods directly off the back of the boat. I will constantly adjust the lead core depths to see which depth works best. I let the fish dictate which presentation they like. If the snap weight presentation produces more fish then I put away the lead and put out four planer boards with snap weights and mono and I get to it. Crank baits trolled for suspended fish in the fall can produce some big fish, but I have found this presentation will not last long into the colder months and the fish will eventually move to the examples given on pattern #1.
I only include this presentation for the fall because when the fish decide to bite this way you can have 100 fish days. We covered this presentation in our article “keep it simple” and in our podcasts at alleyesonfishg.podbean.com. A simple round jig head and half a night crawler. Of course, a jig head and a minnow or gulp can often produce the same desired outcome. I have found this type of presentation does not necessarily work on those fish stacked on the deeper structure discussed in Presentation #1. I am not exactly sure why and I am not going to pretend to give some sort of explanation that makes me sound smarter then you all. I can tell you, if you find a concentration of fish on the bottom in water that is approximately 20ft or less, you can hammer them on this presentation. This also goes for Smallmouth Bass. I have had amazing days catching absolute meat head Smallies looking for fall Walleyes and moving up shallow to find concentrations of big Smallies. I use a ¼oz jig head and I move the boat with my electric to drag the bait very very slowly across the bottom. The use of super line such as fire line is absolutely necessary for this presentation because the fish will just tic the bait or it will become just a little bit heavier and often times if you don’t set the hook immediately, the fish is gone. Some of my favorite fall days consist of listening to the Broncos on a fall Sunday and hammering fish on jigs in 8 to 20ft of water. Working the jigging spoons or Jiggin Raps vertically in shallower water is not as effective as it is in deeper water. Casting Jiggin Raps, blade baits and Moonshine Minnows to those same fish in shallower water will work, but I can tell you from experience; super slow bait right on the bottom will produce fish every minute or two and it’s more fun.
Fall fishing can be one of the most frustrating times of year to get that last bit of open water fishing done. I highlighted three fall patterns that work for me consistently. Each pattern highlights a different area of the lake and it will give you a starting point. I believe fall fishing can be unique to where you live and I am sure these patterns won’t work for everyone. I don’t live in the Midwest and I can’t tell you which pattern is best for The Great Lakes, but I can tell you these three patterns can be used on most any lake in North America to catch fish in the fall. One of the three patterns highlighted will put you in a position to catch fish and like everything else….the rest is up to you!